A majority of Americans want the U.S. to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, according to a new poll.
On the eve of President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia last week, the Pew Research Center released a new public opinion poll it had conducted on Americans’ views of the TPP, the major free trade pact being negotiated between 12 Pacific Rim nations.
As Pew explained the result “A recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that a majority of Americans (55%) believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a good thing, while just 25% think the agreement will be bad for the country and 19% don’t have an opinion.”
That is slightly more than the percentage of Americans who support the TPP’s European counterpart, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). According to a Pew poll taken earlier this month, just 53 percent of Americans view the TPIP as a positive thing for their country.
U.S. support for the TPP is also greater than support for growing trade ties with China. Pew also reported last week that in a recent survey only 51 percent of Americans advocated for greater trade with China compared with 45 percent who were against expanded commerce with Beijing. At the same time, Pew found greater U.S. support for trade in the abstract than for the TPP, TTIP or trade with China. According to Pew, no less than 74 percent of Americans recently told pollsters that greater trade is a good thing for their country.
The sizeable support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the United States appears to be driven largely by a desire among the American public to expand trade ties with Japan. As Pew explained: “Fully 74% in the U.S. say increased trade with Japan would be a good thing, and 29% think it would be very good for the U.S. The belief that increased trade with Japan is a very good thing is shared across the political spectrum and has strong backing among the college-educated, 42% of whom hold that view.”
The widespread support for the TPP in the United States, and especially for expanded trade ties with Japan, is somewhat surprising given that both proposals have been met with fierce resistance from members of Congress. This has been especially true among members of President Obama’s own Democratic Party.
Indeed, last May, 43 Democratic Congress members—including 35 House members and 8 Senators—wrote a letter to President Obama expressing their opposition to Japan joining the TPP talks. Then, in November of last year, a coalition of 151 Democratic House members wrote a letter to Obama to inform him of their opposition to Trade Promotion Authority, which is seen as essential for signing the pact. The 151 Democratic representatives who signed onto the letter account for about 75 percent of the entire Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives.
The fact that the main Congressional opposition to the TPP comes from the Democratic Party is also at odds with the results of Pew’s recent survey, which found that support for the TPP is actually greater among Democrats than Republicans. According to the poll, 59 percent of self-identified Democrats said they support the TPP compared with just 49 percent of Republicans. Self-identified Independents are somewhere in the middle (56 percent support TPP).
The incongruence between the views of the American people and the positions of their representatives in Congress is an increasingly common phenomenon in U.S. politics. One of the more notable recent instances of it was Congress’s failure to pass legislation requiring background checks on all firearm sales despite roughly 90 percent of Americans expressing support for such a law. On the other hand, this phenomenon is not unique to America’s democracy. A November poll by the Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, found that Japan’s population support joining the TPP by a large margin. Nonetheless, special interest group lobbying has hobbled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to join the proposed trade pact.